Depression costs South Africa more than R232 billion or 5.7% of GDP due to lost productivity either due to absence from work or attending work while unwell, the London School of Economics and Political Science 2016 IDEA study has found, the Psychiatry Management Group (PsychMG) said on Sunday.
In a statement ahead of World Mental Health Day on October 10 - focusing this year on mental health in the workplace - PsychMG chairperson Dr Sebolelo Seape said organisations and individuals alike needed to be more aware of the reality and impact that mental health had on the workplace.
“With more than 9.7% of the South African population (or 4.5 million people) suffering from depression the chances are quite real that the person sitting next to you in the office is at some stage in their lives of coping with the condition. It’s not only the duty of the individuals suffering from mental health issues but also organisations and colleagues to fight the stigma associated,” Seape said.
Depression had a significant impact on productivity which in turn aggravated the resulting problems at work and relationship with colleagues and line-managers.
“Depression causes problems with memory, procrastination, extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, fear, and panic which will add to work-related stresses, crippling the output from the employee.”
Seape said the cost of presenteeism - those being at work while suffering from depression - had the most significant impact and equated to a loss of 4.23% of the country’s GDP, and based on a world-wide study, the proportion lost to GDP was the highest in the world.
“In South Africa, employees are very likely to keep working during periods of depression, impacting their productivity and performance at work. This can be due to fear of losing their jobs, being ostracised from colleagues, or lack of mental health knowledge, not understanding why they are going through a spell of periods of not being well.
“Even those who take a sick day here and there because they are not mentally up for it are in essence self-diagnosing and their perceived coping mechanism will draw negative attention. In addition they could be losing out on the support structure offered by their employer, putting their career and relationship with colleagues at risk.”
Taking a few days off but then only sitting at home doing nothing would not help one to cope when one returned to work.
“Although depression (except in severe, chronic, and debilitating cases) is not a disability, it can cause impairment at work and have an impact on daily life, from sleeping to work, concentrating, regulating emotions, or caring for oneself and needs to be addressed via the correct channels," Seape said.
"You need to work together with your medical doctor and psychiatrist to determine the best treatment and how to manage your time off, special needs required at work, or flexible working hours. By discussing the issues with your line-manager or human resources department and finding out the options available to you might alleviate a lot of the anxiety associated with depression while working.
“You can’t expect the person suffering from depression to be the only one to be held accountable alone. The onus is on both the employee by seeking help, discussing with line-manager or HR or dedicated mental health staff member, and compliance with treatment through medication, therapy and life-style changes; and equally on the employer.
"Organisations have a legal responsibility to the welfare of their staff. However, the fact that many employees in South Africa don’t report their depression to their employer due to fear of losing their job is rather worrying,” Seape said.
The law in South Africa stated that an employee with a mental health condition had a constitutional right to equality, human dignity, reasonable accommodation, and fair labour practice. An employer therefore could not demote or transfer a person or reduce a salary because of a mental health condition.
Seape said workplace attitudes promoting acceptance and openness about depression would have a significant impact on improving workplace productivity while openness and support from managers would in turn foster a socially acceptance attitude towards those suffering from depression.